NBA

Klay Thompson marks return in style, Grizzlies make it nine in a row with Lakers win

By Sports Desk January 10, 2022

Klay Thompson marked his return from a two and a half year absence with 17 points as the Golden State Warriors saw off the Cleveland Cavaliers 96-82 on Sunday.

The 31-year-old, who had missed 941 days rehabbing from a torn ACL and ruptured Achilles tendon, was 7 of 18 from the field and 3 of 8 from three-point range.

Thompson also added three rebounds, an assist and a steal in 20 minutes, earning a rousing reception as he left the court

"I was just happy to be out there doing what I love again and getting my rhythm back," Thompson said. "It feels really good... It was surreal. 

"The ovation to start the game, I just was so grateful for these fans. It was special. I'm never going to forget this night."

With his impressive comeback display, Thompson reached 12,000 career points and 1,800 made three-pointers.

Red-hot Grizzlies set franchise record 

The Memphis Grizzlies soared to new heights by beating the Los Angeles Lakers 127-119 as they won nine successive games for the first time in franchise history. 

The Lakers had won four in a row ahead of the contest but could not live with their opponents, who had previously won eight in a row in 2004, 2012, 2013 and 2015.

Desmond Bane had 23 points and Jaren Jackson Jr. added 21, though it was a breathtaking block from Ja Morant to deny Avery Bradley that stole the show.

While it was a disappointing occasion for the Lakers, LeBron James scored 35 points – 23 of those arriving in the first half – and added seven assists.

That saw James move to 9,888 career assists in NBA and pass Oscar Robertson (9,887) for the seventh-most in history.

Mavericks halt Bulls' winning run

The Chicago Bulls' own nine-game winning run came to an end with a 113-99 defeat to the Dallas Mavericks, with Luka Doncic starring for the home side.

Doncic had 22 points, 14 rebounds and 14 assists for his third triple-double of the campaign, while Josh Green and Maxi Kleber had season highs of 18 points each.

Elsewhere on Sunday, Kevin Durant scored 28 points for Brooklyn Nets in their 121-119 win against the San Antonio Spurs.

Cam Thomas made a runner in the lane with a little over a second to go in overtime as the Nets, who led by 10 with four minutes to play, snapped a five game losing run at home.

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    It will be interesting to see whether a passionate Denver Nuggets crowd follows coach Michael Malone's lead on Monday when Joel Embiid comes into town.

    Embiid is Nikola Jokic's rival in an NBA MVP race that Malone believes has taken "a really ugly, nasty turn".

    "It's like when I was a college coach, all the negative recruiting," Malone said last week, having described Embiid as "a great candidate".

    "It's not promoting my guy. It's ripping down every other guy. And that's just ridiculous.

    "Celebrate them; don't criticise, don't tear them down. Build them all up. And whoever wins it, good for them."

    The Nuggets and Embiid's Philadelphia 76ers have been fighting for position in their respective conferences, but debate around the top individual award has continued to rage.

    For his part, Jokic has tried to set it aside. "I don't think about it anymore," he said.

    But it is easy for the two-time reigning MVP to take that stance. Giannis Antetokounmpo is on the periphery of the conversation – albeit perhaps less so after losing to the Nuggets at the weekend – and he won the two before Jokic.

    Embiid has been a finalist the past two years but has never been named the MVP. He might have a different view of things.

    For that reason, the 76ers superstar should relish the opportunity to go into Denver and upset the top seed in the West.

    Embiid has already landed a big blow in one game against the Nuggets this season, finishing with 47 points and 18 rebounds in the Sixers' win back in January.

    That was only the 15th instance of such a performance in the regular season since the NBA/ABA merger, with others to achieve that feat including Antetokounmpo, Michael Jordan and, on three occasions, Shaquille O'Neal.

    Yet for all Embiid's dominance, that game also illustrated how he and Jokic are so different.

    That is no secret, with Jokic a center like Embiid but possessing the playmaking skills of an elite point guard, but it has only become clearer this year.

    Embiid has a usage rate of 37.4 per cent, nudging above last year's mark for a career high. It is little wonder then when he has games, as against the Nuggets, in which he attempts 31 field goals. He has twice attempted 32 field goals this season.

    It is that volume shooting that allows Embiid to lead the league in scoring (33.3 points) despite ranking 'only' 23rd in field goal percentage (54.5). It also helps that he is the only player making more than 10 free throws per game (10.2) – albeit he made just seven of 10 against the Nuggets.

    Meanwhile, Jokic is averaging 24.9 points, down on the previous two seasons. He scored 24 against the 76ers.

    But this is in line with his usage rate shrinking considerably to 27.3 per cent after peaking at 31.8 per cent in 2021-22 – and Jokic could scarcely be more efficient with those possessions.

    He leads the Nuggets in both points and assists (9.9), as well as rebounds (11.8), just as he did in the 76ers game (nine assists, eight rebounds). His turnover percentage is up slightly (16.6) – there were seven against Philly – but so is his assist rate (45.5 per cent) and his shooting from the field (63.3 per cent), three-point range (39.0 per cent) and the foul line (82.3 per cent).

    Jokic is right there for a season averaging a triple-double. That has only been done – four times – by one player in the modern NBA. In those seasons, Russell Westbrook's usage rate never dipped below 30 per cent. He also averaged at least 4.5 turnovers per game in each year, with Jokic back on 3.5.

    Embiid, who likewise has 3.5 turnovers, carries the 76ers' burden in scoring and rebounding, but James Harden is the team's creative force. He had 13 assists against the Nuggets.

    What the 76ers big man lacks in eye-catching passes, however, he makes up for on the defensive end. Defensive metrics do not really do justice to the gap between Embiid and Jokic.

    But that is not to denigrate Jokic. In truth, given their extraordinary seasons, there are no shortage of numbers that would support the case for one man or the other – perhaps contributing to the nastiness Malone bemoaned.

    Maybe it is best then that it comes down to a matchup on the court, two weeks out from the end of the regular season.

    Might we see another 40-point Embiid night to clinch a first MVP? Or Jokic's latest triple-double that pushes him towards three in a row? Whoever wins it, as the Nuggets coach said, good for them.

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